By Becca Blomker
Twelve years ago, I huddled in the basement with my three boys on Christmas Eve while my father stood on the doorstep ringing the bell over and over. Moments before he’d spit into the phone: “Well I guess everything you ever did for the family wasn’t really love . . . or Christian.” Then he’d declared our relationship “over” and said he would be on my doorstep in five minutes, whether I liked it or not, to deliver presents for his grandkids—thrift store toys, unwrapped and thrown in a trash bag.
His words—our relationship is over—a cruel power-play intended to prick my deepest fear of being cast out of the family. What had I done to deserve this threat? I’d invited the family to honesty, to naming the ways we’d done harm to one another, to individual and collective repentance from image-protection, blame-shifting, and deceit. But my family saw the invitation to honesty as betrayal, a threat to their way of life.
Rather than own the family sins, my parents and siblings branded me with those same sins—unloving, arrogant, unchristian, ‘crazy,’ rebellious, disobedient, a liar—and like the priests did with the scapegoats in biblical times, they exiled me.
The threat of orphanhood and exile is a powerful weapon, and one that every oppressive family system utilizes to varying degrees. Since we were made for connection with God and others, this threat of disconnection is meant to scare the adult child into submission. The fear of having no place to belong, of being ALONE in this scary world, keeps orphans seeking safety, connection, and support from family members that either cannot or will not give it.
For orphans, the Holidays can be especially exhausting because you wear yourself out trying to create opportunities for connection, only to have them blow up in your face or leave you feeling empty and forever-hungry for the words: “Well done, my son, my daughter. I am well pleased with who you are.”
The path of healing involves trading the identity of “orphan” for “son or daughter.” This journey is hard work for the scrappy outcast who has learned to cover their vulnerability, helplessness, and shame by clenching their jaws and muscling through life’s “slings and arrows of misfortune.” The outcast has learned to survive emotional, mental, and spiritual abandonment through unrelenting self-reliance and a stubborn refusal to receive help.
Yet from this fierce posture, orphans fail to thrive in deep connection with God and others.
Living out of your true identity as “Beloved, precious Child,” adopted by a good heavenly Father, is about learning dependence and growing in trust. That journey begins with the courage to “fully acknowledge [the stories of harm] and allow all [you]have experienced to be known and cared for.”
This is Part 1 in a five-part series on the adult orphan’s journey to healing. Come back for Confessions of an Adult Orphan, Part 2—Naming and Lamenting the Harm.
*Dr. Dan Allender, Redeeming Heartache, pg. 65.
2 thoughts on “Confessions of an Adult Orphan, Part 1: Oppressive Family Systems and the Desire to Belong”
Wow. So good. How many of us can identify with similar family brokenness. Hits home.
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Dear Rebecca, Part 1 touched on the deepest pain of my heart I’ve suffered from another. I appreciate your story and your insights and wisdom God has given you having gone through the pain of being an orphan.
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